ATHENS -- Georgia’s football program could not afford any more problems in the secondary. And yet another hit came Monday, in the form of more off-the-field news.
Starting cornerback Branden Smith was arrested in Alabama on a misdemeanor marijuana charge. Smith, who will be a senior this fall, will face a suspension of at least one game, according to UGA policy, and it could be more.
“We don’t know everything about it. But if there are arrests or what have you, it’s usually a minimum of 10 percent (of a season),” Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said. “It just depends on, as Mark said (Monday), on how he reacts, and how (Smith) deals with it with his head ball coach.”
Richt, during a previously scheduled news conference to preview spring practice, said he had a very brief conversation with Smith on Monday morning.
“So I didn’t get as much information as I needed to get,” he said.
The arrest is the third in three months for members of the 2011 Bulldogs, and two of them were projected starting cornerbacks for 2012: Sanders Commings was arrested in January on a misdemeanor domestic battery, and he has already been suspended for the first two games of the season.
Georgia also had two cornerbacks -- Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders -- dismissed from the team in February following a theft from a dorm room. And another corner, sophomore Jordan Love, decided in January to transfer.
All of this just hastens the move to corner for Malcolm Mitchell, the team’s leader in receiving yards last season. Mitchell lobbied head coach Mark Richt to play cornerback on a part-time basis, but now Mitchell will work full-time on defense in spring practice.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall whether he’ll go exclusively defensive back or not yet, but you can’t be in both meetings at the same time,” Richt said. “Early on, we’re going to have to have him help at corner.”
Essentially, Mitchell will be training at cornerback, where he played in high school at Valdosta, during spring practice so the team can see how he performs there and get him ready for the season. Richt pointed out that Mitchell already has a “good working knowledge” of receiver, as he showed last year.
The Bulldogs don’t necessarily want to lose Mitchell as a receiver. Richt said the offensive coaches weren’t happy to lose Mitchell, “but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Georgia opens with Buffalo, but the next week it plays at Missouri, which just signed the nation’s top receiver prospect, Dorial Green-Beckham. So cornerback is not a position the Bulldogs can deal with lightly.
“Malcolm is going to play a big role, I think, at corner, regardless of what happened with Branden. He’s a very talented football player,” Richt said. “It’s already been established he’s going to help us on the defensive side of the ball, and our goal is for him to help us on both sides of the ball.”
Smith’s arrest came three days after tight end Orson Charles, who declared for the NFL draft in January, was arrested for DUI in Athens. The Georgia program was racked by arrests before a lull in 2011.
Richt called it “very frustrating” and added that “the timing wasn’t very good, either.” But the coach defended the way his program handles discipline.
“I think we handle that more strict than most people do,” Richt said. “If you look at other people’s policies, ours is much tougher than just about anybody I’ve ever seen. So because some of our guys end up with a game suspension or what it might be ... our goal when guys make mistakes is to handle it properly. Now the second thing that’s important is how they respond to it.”
The Henry County, Ala., Sheriff’s Office in Abbeville reported that Smith and a companion, Danze Woods, were pulled over on U.S. Highway 431 for a missing tag light and following too close. Upon approaching the car, the officer smelled an odor of marijuana.
An ounce of marijuana was seized from the car. The officer said both Smith and Woods were cooperative. They were booked at 11:41 p.m. on Sunday night, then they bonded out a couple hours later.
Smith posted bond of $2,000, and Woods posted bond of $3,000. Both were cited for possession of marijuana 2, a misdemeanor. Smith was driving the car.
Attempts to reach Smith were not successful.